By Mike Steffanos
Not exactly the reliever acquisition that most fans dreamed of, it seems to me the Mets picked up a competent, experienced middle reliever for a player (Anderson Hernandez) who really isn't in their plans any more.
Of course, Ayala is having a brutal year, and it remains to be seen if he can help the Mets. Sometimes a change of scenery works for a player, but sometimes coming in to a pennant race can expose a guy.
Ayala has been a solid bullpen arm for Montreal/Washington since 2003. His strength was always that he threw strikes. In his first three season, 2003-2005, he averaged less than 2 walks per nine innings pitched -- 1.6, 1.5 and 1.8, respectively.
He missed all of 2006 after hurting his arm in the WBC and requiring Tommy John surgery. He returned late last June and had a respectable partial season for the Nationals. His walk rate jumped somewhat to 2.6/9 IP.
This season has been pretty bad, to the point where one of the fellow bloggers whom I most respect, Mets Today's Joe Janish, compare Ayala's current season to Guillermo Mota's 2007 debacle, minus the high strikeouts. Ouch. Joe also makes the point that Ayala has been heavily used this season. Good points all.
So what's changed to take Ayala from a dependable middle reliever to a struggling one? His hits, strikeouts and home runs allowed per nine innings are comparable to his lifetime numbers, but the walks have jumped again to 3.4 -- almost double what they were in his best seasons. For a guy who allows his share of hits and home runs, this jump in walks allowed is very bad.
Looking at AVG/OB%/SLG, his 2008 numbers are up across the board, .280/.352/.427 this season compared to .269/.318/.401 career. Again though, the really big jump is in on base percentage, mostly reflecting the jump in walks.
The real question for me here is whether the jump in walks reflect mechanical issues or a pitcher with diminished stuff becoming gun shy. If it's the former, maybe this will work out. If it's the latter, probably not.
Still, it seems like a decent gamble for the Mets in my eyes. Anderson Hernandez has already been overtaken by several players including Argenis Reyes, and seems likely to drop even further on the depth chart as promising young players like Ruben Tejada and Wilmer Flores advance. I think you might see Daniel Murphy playing 2B in Queens before they reached down for A-Hern.
Your hope with Ayala is that he might get back to throwing strikes and help stabilize the sixth and seventh innings. If he doesn't get it together, you would hope the relatively low cost in bringing him here would not preclude the Mets from trying a different option.